Whore’s Glory is a 2011 documentary by Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger that follows the lives of prostitutes in three different countries.
(The Fish Tank)
The women clock into work, briefly bowing before a statue and saying a little prayer they’ll be chosen, then have their hair and make up done by people on site. They get dressed nicely and sit on cushions behind a glass partition (the ‘fish tank’).
Because the women are behind glass they can talk to one another, laugh, gossip and complain without the men overhearing.
The men sit on the other side of the glass in comfortable seats and have a drink or two and look at the women and chat with one another or the attendants. Attendants answer questions about the women—if they’re new, if they worked somewhere before, etc.
The women support one another—giggling about men looking at the other women—mostly. Though when one girl is chosen more than once in one day one woman says, ‘I hope his dick is too big for you.’ Another does the Thai version of a fist bump to the one chosen.
Lots of women have shown up that night so it’s less likely any one will be chosen. If they aren’t chosen, they don’t get paid.
The prices range from 1,600 bhat up to 2,000 ($45.50 –56.90) for two hours with the woman of your choice. (We’re never told how much the woman gets.)
The documentary follows the women out on their daily lives—at home or having dinner with friends.
They talk about what they’d do if they didn’t work at the club and how their families drive them crazy—the same conversations you’d hear from any other women in their early-twenties. They discuss other career options and when they’ll get married and have kids (in Thailand it’s not a big deal for a man to marry a former prostitute).
For fun the girls go to host clubs and pick up bar boys, who dress like extras from Miami Vice. Bean informs me host clubs are also popular in Japan. Pretty young men spend time making themselves beautiful then flirt and dance with women.
The woman who is a sort of manager of the club talks about being a kind of second mother to the women and she worries about them spending all their money on the bar boys. One of the women is appalled to learn the guy she likes spending time with is often patronized by a woman who’s over forty.
While looking up bhat conversions, I did a little more research, with the help of Bean. Prostitution isn’t strictly legal in Thailand, but it’s not also explicitly illegal, and in some ways it’s regulated. About $6.4 billion dollars was generated in a recent year (according to Havocscope), which is roughly 10 percent of Thailand’s GDP.
Glawogger also interviewed the men who frequented the establishment.
The overall philosophy towards sex work was straightforward. But it almost would be, the women clock into work in a clean, well-lit, safe place. They shouldn’t feel like they’re doing anything untoward. And prior to that, the societal groundwork had already been laid, so to speak.
(City of Joy)
This segment takes place in (inside? Outside? It’s impossible to tell but it’s always dark and close like a Dickensian slum) an enormous brothel called the City of Joy.
Which is the least apt name for anyplace I can imagine.
All of the prostitutes in this part look much younger than the women in the first section. These I feel comfortable calling the people in this segment girls.
This segment starts with a young woman is on the phone, harassing a john who was at the brothel earlier that day. He usually patronized her, but he’d gone with someone else that particular day and she was mightily displeased. There were particular parts of her body that she wondered if he no longer cared for any longer.
She was a little more… to the point, though.
The girls—over thirteen, under twenty, I would guess—are owned by various madams. One tells the story of how she was brought there (with lies); we see one madam buying another girl from another madam and then talking to the girl about what she needs to do to earn her money back.
At one point an older teen quotes a price of 200 taka ($2.50) and the man tries to haggle her down to 50 taka ($.64). They settle on a deal and she has to run to get a condom from her madam—a different one from the others—and off they go.
That woman runs four prostitutes total. She talked about her previous place and her daughter—a toddler—and how she would probably become a ‘whore’, because ‘what else was she going to do?’
There was a straightforward tone to this section, as well, when talking to the girls and the madams. But it was more fatalistic. They had been born into a cold, hard world where, if you were a woman, you had few options, and none of them were desirable.
Like the previous segment, men are asked why brothels exist and what they think of them. One man talks about how the brothel is good because without it all women would be molested in the street and men would be screwing goats and cows.
The situation in Bangladesh is far more desperate than the one in Bangkok—the girls verbally and physically accost men to try to get them to stay with them.
Prostitution is legal in Bangladesh, though the minimum age is supposed to be 18. This is often ignored by the authorities.
Reynosa borders Hidalgo, Texas and is over 450 miles from Mexico City.
The final section is in Mexico and begins with a woman who’s laughing about how she loves dick, gets horny and has orgasms. She gets paid to have fun. She lists off the various cities she’s worked in in Mexico (a whole bunch) and talks about how she loves her job.
We see one person give a price of 500 pesos ($28) for sex and a blow job.
Then a woman who was THE whore for years gave some practical tips on how to fool johns and told some tear-inducingly hilarious stories about her decades as a famous prostitute. I would watch an entire show of her just telling stories. The documentary was worth the watch anyway, but her few minutes alone would have made it worthwhile.
A guy goes to see one of the women interviewed and she gives him a quote, but, wouldn’t you know it, he doesn’t have that much. They do what they’re going to do and she gives him his twenty minutes, but… I don’t want to spoil it for you, but this entire segment was great. Fellas, bring enough money. Don’t be cheap.
The final bit are two of the women we’ve seen talking before getting high.
As with the other two, men were asked what they thought about the Zone—why they came there. The guys were there to have fun! They had no problems sharing what they were interested in or why. Really, this segment made me want to visit Mexico.
Prostitution in Mexico has been regulated since 1885. In Reynosa, as well as other Mexican cities, there are designated areas for legalized prostitution that are patrolled by the police. They’re called zona de tolerancia – basically the red-light district. Perhaps that’s why everyone was so laid back about everything. It’s just a part of life, and has been for over a hundred years.
At some point in all three pieces the women pray to their different gods (Buddhism, Islam and Santeria). All for good luck getting johns. No judgment on that—I just found it interesting that they all did so and it made me wonder how widespread the practice of praying for johns (not safety from them) was.
Women in the first two segments spoke about what they thought of as gross (oral sex for one). If a man asked for that they’d say they used their mouths to recite holy words—even though the two sets of women were saying different holy words—and so they couldn’t do oral sex. Apparently, men accepted this
The Mexican prostitutes included blow jobs in as part of their pricing scheme.
Then I started wondering what sex workers found to be beyond the pale around the world. Just an absolute, ‘No! No sir, not today!’
It should be a Tumblr. I would read it so hard.
The music choices were spot on. It started with a piece by Tricky and every other cue was perfect.
There is no voice-over, no narration, but the filmmaker gets to choose what story they want to tell. When watching any sort of documentary it’s important to keep in mind the agenda of the person making the piece. If a viewer wants to watch this and see women being exploited by an unfair system they can certainly find that—the Bangladesh segment was heartbreaking, but that situation could have an entire essay or two (or four) of its own.
How sex work works in one part of the world is not how it is in every part of the world, where attitudes towards women and sex vary (somewhat). Which is possibly what Glawogger was trying to say.
Whore’s Glory was interesting to this someone who is pro-sex worker (obviously when the person has freely chosen the profession). I would definitely be curious about the opinions of sex workers who’ve seen it.
The two people I watched the film with agreed that the segments were presented in the perfect order. The first was pretty straightforward—no one seemed particularly bothered by their profession. The second was difficult to watch in places and the third was basically comic relief.
If you’re interested in the way the sex industry works to some degree in some countries, I recommend this one.